For a government that prides itself on adherence to rule of law, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration conversely continues to administer the Niger Delta Development Commission in flagrant violation of the NDDC Act. As a Commission established in 2000 by an Act of parliament, the ongoing national embarrassment at NDDC should be of grave concern to President Buhari about his legacy when he leaves office in 2023 and thereby persuade him to put an end to the illegality of further administering NDDC with a Sole Administrator that is not known to the law setting-up the commission, writes Nseobong Okon-Ekong
While receiving governors of the constituent states that make-up NDDC in Aso Rock on October 17, 2019, President Buhari said that “I try to follow the Act setting up these institutions especially the NDDC.”
However, the reverse has been the case. Since the inauguration of the Buhari Presidency on May 29, 2015, it has serially violated the law setting up NDDC by consistently choosing to administer the commission through illegal interim managements and Sole Administrator contraptions that are alien to the law setting up NDDC. In the six and a half-years tenure of President Buhari, NDDC has only been administered by a substantive Board for two years, between November 2016 and January 2019 when Senator Victor Ndom-Egba was Chairman while Nsima Ekere was the Managing Director.
There is a pattern of illegalities instituted by the current administration to undermine accountability at the NDDC in a way that no other federal agency has been so treated in the last six and a half,years of the Buhari Presidency. In the 15-year history of the NDDC, prior to President Buhari’s coming in 2015, an interim appointment had never been made outside of the law, even when the governing boards were dissolved.
Prior to Buhari’s coming to power in 2015, in the absence of a Board duly constituted in line with the NDDC Act, the Most Senior Civil Servant in the NDDC took over as Managing Director in acting capacity for a brief period until a Board was constituted in line with the NDDC Act. The NDDC Act does not permit the appointment of any external persons from outside the Commission to act as Managing Director or Sole Administrator without compliance with the Act which requires nomination by the President and confirmation by the Senate. This is the same requirement for ministers of the Federal Republic. The law does not permit for anyone to be appointed as acting Minister in any ministry. If there is no minister in a ministry, the Most Senior Civil Servant – i.e. the Permanent Secretary holds forth until a Minister is appointed by the President and duly confirmed by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The orderly succession in NDDC was only breached in 2015 by the Buhari administration when it dissolved the Bassey Henshaw-led Board with Dan Abia as Managing Director, and appointed Ibim Semenitari as Sole Administrator, a position she held illegally for over one year. The illegality in NDDC continued in January 2019 when President Buhari dissoved the two-year old Victor Ndoma-Egba led Board and replaced the Board with an Interim Management team led by Professor Nelson Brambaifa. It was not until August of 2019 that the Buhari Presidency ended the illegal Brambaifa interim management team and then, in accordance with the law establishing NDDC forwarded the list of nominees for a 16-member Board to the Senate for confirmation, and then dutifully appointed the most senior civil servant at that time in NDDC, Mrs. Akwaghagha Enyia, as Acting Managing Director pending the Senate confirmation of the President’s nominees as NDDC Board members, which list he forwarded to the Senate on October 18, 2019.
But unfortunately again President Buhari relapsed to its recourse to illegality in administering NDDC, because as the Senate dutifully screened and confirmed the nominees of President Buhari as Board and Management of NDDC on November 5, 2019, this same government has since embarked on another spree of interim managements/sole administrator contraptions, while the Board confirmed by the Senate has been on hold since November 2019.
Since October 2019 this government has appointed two illegal interim management teams led by Joi Nunieh and Professor Keme Pondei, respectively, and presently the Commission is illegally led by an Interim Administrator, Effiong Akwa.
As reported in a national daily last week, it is therefore a fitting call to duty that a Niger Delta Monarch, The Ovie of Idjerhe Kingdom, HRM Monday Whiskey Udurhie I, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to comply with the law by inaugurating the substantive Board of the Commission.
According to the newspaper report quoting the Monarch, HRM Monday Whiskey Udurhie I, “The Niger Delta has not been so bad in the past 20 years of NDDC’s existence that one single individual in the name of Minister of Niger Delta Affairs will hijack the administrative structures of the interventionist agency working for social-economic development of a sensitive region like the Niger Delta and the entire nation’s leadership will go to sleep as if all is well.”
HRM Monday Whiskey Udurhie I insisted that “The Federal Government can no longer pretend that the unholy alliance between Godswill Akpabio and some principal officers of the Federal Government to ignite uncontrollable crisis is not known to it. President Buhari must now rise to the occasion to save the Niger Delta region from the sorry state of an individual who has deliberately decided to abandon his Ministerial responsibilities and took over the rulership of NDDC.“
Also, Delta State Governor and Chairman of the South-south Governors’ Forum (SSGF), Senator Ifeanyi Okowa has described the delay of President Buhari to inaugurate the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as deprivation of the entire South-south Region.
Speaking last week in Government House, Asaba, during the quarterly media briefing, Okowa expressed displeasure over the slow action of the President to inaugurate a Board for the Commission.
He recalled that the governors of the constituent states of the NDDC have consistently made their position known since October 2019 when the Commission has been without a board.
Okowa said, “We have made our position clear as South-south Governors. We have spoken about how we feel and it is very unfortunate that where we are at the moment, it ought not to be so. We have not had a proper board for over two years now and that is not right. Whatever situation the NDDC is operating with now is unknown to the law of this country.”
He noted that NDDC has been administered on illegality and non-compliance with the law (NDDC Act) as the nine constituent states of the Niger Delta have been deprived of their statutory representation due to the delay of the President to inaugurate a substantive board to run the affairs of the Commission in accordance with the law establishing the Commission.
Governor Okowa regretted that “the states are now being deprived of the opportunity of having their representatives at the board because you are supposed to have state representatives who are able to ensure that the budget of the NDDC is run in the way it ought to run, with what is due to each state, getting to them. This has not been the situation for quite some time and that is why we have always complained.”
According to him, “I feel that no matter what is going on, there is a law and there is a need for Federal Government to do what is right. The provision in the law ensures that there is equity and that no state is short-changed.”
In a similar vein, The 21st Century Youths of Niger Delta and Agitators with Conscience (21st CYNDAC), in a statement issued by its Coordinator, Izon Ebi reiterated its call on President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the substantive board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC) and noted with dismay that “as it stands, the North East Development Commission (NEDC) is making progress (with a proper Board and Management in place) while the Niger Delta region and its NDDC that pays the supreme sacrifice of contributing eighty percent to the nation’s GDP is being used for political brinkmanship and showmanship to the detriment of the pathetic plight of the Niger Delta region and its people.”
In tandem with the legitimate demands of stakeholders across the Niger Delta region, on November 13, 2021, the Conference of Presidents-General of Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities (CPGNDEN) met in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State and in the Communique issued after its meeting called on President Muhammadu Buhari “to keep his promise and inaugurate a substantive board for NDDC following the submission of the forensic report, and in line with the law establishing the agency,” noting that the Niger Delta was in dire need of development which the absence of the board has so far stalled.
In the communique which was read by its President, Professor Benjamin Okaba, CPGNDEN also contended that the running of the NDDC by a sole administrator was contrary to the law establishing the Commission. Okaba who is also the President of Ijaw National Congress stated that “The general feeling is that the region has been auctioned off to one man to do with it as he pleases.”
Also at the recent protest march by the Conference of Presidents-General of Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities (CPGNDEN) in Yenagoa, Professor Chris Akpotu, Secretary of CPGNDEN, and President-General of Isoko Development Union (IDU) restated that what Niger Deltans demand is an NDDC “substantive board that will ensure even and equitable distribution of the development programmes as far as the Niger delta is concerned.”
Prince Biira, President, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni people (MOSOP), at the march, remarked that “Interim caretakership of the NDDC is a symbol of corruption, it’s a symbol of misappropriation. The essence of that Commission (NDDC) is to develop the Niger Delta area.”
Recall that President Buhari promised the nation on the 24th day of June 2021, while receiving the Ijaw National Congress (INC) at the State House in Abuja that the NDDC Board would be inaugurated as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted.
The President said: ‘‘Based on the mismanagement that had previously bedeviled the NDDC, a forensic audit was set up and the result is expected by the end of July, 2021. I want to assure you that as soon as the forensic audit report is submitted and accepted, the NDDC Board will be inaugurated.”
However, the forensic audit report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since September 2, 2021 prompting the Ijaw National Congress to caution that “any further delay in the inauguration of the NDDC Board is a clear betrayal of trust and display of state insensitivity on Ijaw nation and Niger Delta region.”
Niger Deltans, and indeed discerning Nigerians are scandalized at the deafening but seemingly conspiratorial silence of the National Assembly over the ongoing illegality at NDDC.
Also, early last year, senior lawyer and human rights activist Femi Falana SAN, spoke on the dangers of the Buhari administration flouting the law setting up NDDC.
Speaking at a lecture to mark the Third Anniversary of the first term of Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu in Akure on February 27, 2020, Falana said the administration is flouting the law setting up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appointing an interim management committee for the Commission.
The rights activist noted that the administration’s actions on the NDDC where the law has been subverted leave the actions in the Commission open to litigation, a point that has been raised by rights groups and lawyers as the Government continues to administer the NDDC using Interim Management Committee (IMC), and presently, a sole administrator. In Falana’s words, “The President in October 2019 appointed an interim committee. I am submitting here that there is no provision in the NDDC Act for an interim committee.”
Also recently, renowned Ijaw group, the Ijaw Interest Advocates (IIA), also known as Izanzan Intellectual Camp urged President Buhari to remember to keep good legacies by abiding to the law establishing NDDC, call the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio to order, to stop using the name of President Buhari as flimsy excuses over the delay in inaugurating the NDDC board.
In a statement signed by its leader, Arerebo Salaco Yerinmene Snr “the recklessness and consistent use of Mr. President’s name by Akpabio to defend illegalities in NDDC is putting President Buhari’s name and image in a bad light before the good people of Niger Delta region.”
The Group noted that “The Presidency and the President’s family should remember to keep good legacies even after office. The government’s flagrant disobedience of the laws guiding the establishment of an agency created to develop an impoverished region is unacceptable. We are again appealing to President Buhari to shun the excuses of Akpabio and save the Niger Delta Development Commission by inaugurating the substantive board.”
Clearly, the point has been made by Niger Delta stakeholders that the Buhari Presidency needs to redeem itself now that the forensic audit report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari since September 2, 2021.
The President should do well to heed the call of Niger Delta leaders, governors, youths, women, traditional rulers, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders, comply with the law setting up NDDC, and also fulfill his own promise of June 24, 2021, and inaugurate the board to manage the commission for the benefit of the people of the nine Niger Delta states.
The Federal Government can no longer pretend that the unholy alliance between Godswill Akpabio and some principal officers of the Federal Government to ignite uncontrollable crisis is not known to it. President Buhari must now rise to the occasion to save the Niger Delta region from the sorry state of an individual who has deliberately decided to abandon his Ministerial responsibilities and took over the rulership of NDDC